Organized Home

Schoolday Solution: Win the Wardrobe Wars

Back-to-School Countdown Day 13

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 20, 2014

What to wear? For many families, this simple question is a daily flash-point for conflict on school mornings.

A budding fashionista throws a tantrum if a given outfit doesn't meet her standards, while another child insists on wearing one favorite shirt day after day--laundered or not. Younger children resist getting dressed at all, delaying the whole family's departure--and everyone's mood descends to the basement before the day has even begun.

Win the wardrobe wars! Try these ideas to get 'em up, dressed and off to school on time.

Plan Ahead

Wait until each morning to choose the day's clothing, and you've guaranteed a stressful start to the day. Instead, lay out children's outfits the night before--or use Sunday evening to set aside clothing for the coming week.

Group each day's outfit together on the closet rod, or sort a week's worth of folded clothing onto the shelves of a hanging sweater organizer.
Planning ahead ensures that "there's nothing to wear!" meltdowns and frenzied searches of the clothes dryer won't disrupt morning routines.

Harness The Power of Choice

Allowing children to choose turns down the volume in the struggle to get them dressed. Even younger children can choose whether to wear the red shirt or the striped one; school-agers can select each day's clothing from already-assembled outfits. Having a choice gives kids a buy-in to the transaction, and helps prevent power struggles.

Better, harness the power of structured choice. Have a kid who's inordinately fond of a single T-shirt? Ask them to choose which day they'll wear Old Favorite during the week. By pre-assembling outfits, and offering your child a choice between them, you can ensure that your little one is reasonably put together, while wearing items of their own choice.

Impose Consequences

Die-hard non-dressers can delay the whole family's morning routine--and make a parent sound like a skipping CD track, chanting "Go Get Dressed NOW!" at two-minute intervals.

Pull the sting by imposing logical consequences for a child who refuses to dress: when it's time to leave, hand them their clothing and take them to school in their pajamas. While you may want to alert school personnel to your efforts to teach independence and responsibility, peer pressure will solve the problem quickly. Whether the child scrambles into their clothing in the car on the way, or heads straight to the restroom to change, the consequences will teach the lesson: no dawdling!

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If morning clothing fits are a fixture in your home, take a good look at the causes of the conflict. Sure, you'll need to take a stand when a child wants to wear shorts and a tank top on a frosty day, but is it really necessary to go to that level when the disagreement centers on less important matters?

If over-strict sartorial standards are sparking disagreements, consider taking a step back.

Learning to choose clothing, coordinate outfits and develop a personal style are life-skills needed by every child. Invest in their learning curve by staying OUT of their decisions, even when you disagree. A child sporting black shoes with beige chinos may set your teeth on edge--but it's not worth the lost energy of a morning tussle. Let them learn and grow!

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Home's Cool! Get Organized for Homeschool

Subtitle: 

Back-to-School Countdown Day 12

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 19, 2014

In my years as worker, mother and home manager, I have experienced a full range of life’s little organizational challenges.

I have run a business from a home shared with two tiny children and moved cross-country (and back). I've merged two cluttered households into one small city apartment, and lived for many happy years with a card-carrying packrat husband.

Home schooling a child beat them all hands-down, organizationally speaking.

How do I count the clutter? The books. The papers. The biology experiments on the kitchen window.

The adult-sized child sprawled on the floor, reading. The record-keeping. College admissions and testing and letters from the correspondence school.

Homeschool families, like Tolstoy's happy ones, are all alike: drowning in a sea of clutter!

Whatever the organization arena--time, space, money, computer access—-homeschool families have it worse. They have more stuff, less time, more distractions, less money, more chores and less space than just about anybody else.

How do you get organized for homeschool?

Don't despair, homeschoolers! Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we've assembled the best tips, ideas, resources and links to get your new school year off to an organized start.

You don't homeschool? Hang around anyway!

The principles used to organize full-time home schooling families also work for every other family where you find children and learning and love.

Ready? Get organized for homeschool, because home's cool!

Plan to Succeed: Teaching Kids The Planner Habit

Back-to-School Countdown Day 11

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 18, 2014

Teachers, parents and homeschool families know that training kids to the planner habit makes for successful students.

School districts throughout the USA issue planners to pupils and integrate planner use into the school day. Homeschool families use planners to track and organize lessons, chores and activities, while tech-savvy teens rely on smartphone calendar and to-do apps to organize their work.

A student planner is only a tool. How do you teach a child to use one? Try these tips to teach kids the planner habit.

The Right Stuff

Match the planner to the child. The most costly leather-bound business planner won't organize a single day if the kid never cracks the cover! The best student planners are streamlined, colorful, and designed with children in mind.

When selecting a student planner, look for ease of use and durability. Sturdy plastic covers, snap-on page finders and flat-fold spiral binding help young users get comfortable with this time-management tool.

Built-in paper pockets help organize homework, permission slips and school notices. Because children often carry their world in a backpack, consider weight and size when selecting a student planner.

Master The Art

You can't teach what you have yet to learn!

Review the principles of planner use (see Tap the Power of Planners) before teaching your child.

Here are the basics that any planner user must master:

  • Enter all dates, assignments and activities in a single planner
  • Keep your planner with you at all times
  • Check your planner at regular times to orient your day
  • Prioritize tasks and carry them forward if undone
Get The Teacher On The Team

Most teachers are delighted with any method that improves home-school cooperation and student organization.

Tip off your child's teachers that you're teaching new time management skills, and enlist their help as your child learns the ropes of planner use.

They can help reinforce the planner habit in the classroom.

Start Slowly

Tempting as it is to lay down the organizational law and demand whole-child change along with a new student planner, resist the idea. Too often, that "new leaf" will last only as long as an adult enforces it. The minute the adult attention wanes, the child lapses back into relaxed disorganization with a sigh of relief.

Independent planner use is a habit, and like all habits, must be established over time.

Begin with a single planner function: writing down homework each day, or checking a daily chore list. It will take three to four weeks of daily reinforcement to build this habit.

When the first step is a regular part of the child's day, move on to a new facet of planner use.

Establish A Planner Routine

Habits and routines are two sides of the same coin. To establish the habit of planner use, set up a simple routine for you and your child. Sit down with your child each evening to review the coming day, and encourage them to check the planner before beginning the day's homework.

For example, make "check your planner!" the first task of each afternoon homework session. Store student planners in each child's launch pad, whether it's a dishpan on a shelf or a school backpack hung on the back of the child's chair. Finally, hold a final planner-and-homework check each evening before bed. Tuck completed homework into planner pockets for a smooth start to the next day.

As the grown-up, you'll need to enforce the routine integrating planner use for some time. Expect some falling by the wayside, but both parents and children will soon appreciate how much time and stress is saved by a daily routine.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate

At first, children don't appreciate the benefits of planner use. Because they live in the moment, it's hard for kids see writing down each birthday party, swim club practice and school assignment as more than just another chore. As time goes on, children begin to appreciate the security of having all their homework, chores and activities in one place, but in the short term, it's up to the adults to motivate them.

Use stickers, stars or smiley faces to reward planner entries. Hold family calendar meetings in which every family member (parents, too!) updates his or her personal planner; having a planner just like Mom and Dad makes planner use seem glamorous and grown-up.

Take It Personally

Evaluating children's planners while preparing to write this article, this adult writer found their bright pages busy and distracting.

Not so my child consultants! They loved the graphics, puzzle pages, games and mazes.

"It makes it fun!" said one 7-year-old planner wannabe.

Take a tip from my short-stuff experts, and encourage your child to personalize his or her planner with stickers, drawings and photos. A set of colored pens makes planner entries fun to write and draw, and encourages color-coding for home, school and extra-curricular activities.

The more children make a planner their own, the more they use it!

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Hit the Sack: Gear Up for School Lunches

Back-to-School Countdown Day 10

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 15, 2014

Will you add "pack school lunches" to your to-do list when school starts? Time to get organized!

School-day mornings veer to frazzled in a heartbeat, and never more so than when trying to pack lunches while locating laundry, overseeing homework and calling children to breakfast.

Give yourself a break, and take time now to prepare for the school lunch routine. With nine months of lunch duty ahead, planning school lunch menus will make it easy to pack the sacks each day!

Get Informed

Time was, school lunch meant a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a banana ... for everyone. Today, increased awareness of issues like nut allergies and childhood nutrition means that many schools issue guidelines for home-packed lunches.

Before stocking the lunch cupboard for the school year, review school lunch policies. Be in the know before you go shopping!

Find Your Center

Assembling lunches, do you bounce around the kitchen like a ping-pong ball? With sandwich spreads in the refrigerator, bread stored in cabinets, and plastic bags in a drawer near the sink, assembling a simple sack lunch becomes a juggling act ... and you're the ball!

Instead, tap the "activity center" concept, and set up a one-stop center for lunch preparation.

In a cupboard or accessible drawer, store what you need to prepare and package lunches. Sandwich bags and fruit cups. Utensils and plastic wrap. Boxed fruit juice and condiments. If you need it for lunches, give it a home in your lunch center!

In the refrigerator, tuck packs of cold cuts, bagged veggies, string cheese and fruit into a flat-bottomed plastic organizer. Pull it out each morning to make sandwiches and assemble lunches, easily.

Creating a lunch center keeps you glued to one place, with tools and supplies close at hand. Better, you'll know at a glance when you're low on granola bars!

Brainstorm Lunch Ideas

The prettiest bento-inspired lunch presentation may create a splash on Pinterest, but will fall flat if your child refuses to eat it or trades it away for a chocolate bar.

Check in with your children, and brainstorm a list of 10 to 15 kid-approved lunch ideas before school starts. Working together, be sure lunches include fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks so they are nutritionally complete.

After the consult, make a quick list of lunch menus on the free printable School Lunch Planner, and post it near the kitchen lunch center, to guide you on sleepy winter mornings.

And since even the most cafeteria-averse child will still decide to buy school lunch on pizza day, make space near the lunch center to post the school lunch menu. Circle the days your child will buy lunch ... and buy you some extra time!

Weekly Check-In

A quick once-a-week check-in will keep the family on-track for school lunch. Post the week's school lunch menu, and decide which days children will buy their lunch.

Keep tabs on children's changing tastes, modifying lunch menus as needed. If containers of once-loved pasta salad are returning home unopened, it's time to find a new side dish!

Check stocks of lunch staples, and replenish as necessary.

Pre-Pack Where Possible

Whether you prepare a week's worth of lunches over the weekend, or pack them the night before, pre-packing lunches brings new calm to school-day mornings.

Where possible, pre-assemble school lunches to save time each day. Morning minutes are worth ten at any other time of the day!

Outsource Lunch Preparation

Finally, place children in charge of preparing their own lunches. While you'll want to monitor for nutritional completeness and keep the lunch center stocked, giving the responsibility to the child teaches them to plan ahead, and promotes good organization skills.

Add "make lunch" to the family's before-bed routine, and show children how to assemble their lunch for the next day. In the morning, add sandwiches or cold items ... for a lesson in organized living!

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Set Up A Family Command Center

Back-to-School Countdown Day 9

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 14, 2014

Each day in your household, the questions fly. What time is soccer practice? Do we need to buy milk? Is the family free to attend a barbecue this weekend?

Even in an age of smartphones, each household needs a one-stop location to find the answers: a family command center.

Information central for busy families, a family command center cuts school-day stress by creating a single location to find calendars, information and messages needed by the family each day.

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, we'll set up--or spiff up!--a family command center to keep life running smoothly.

Make it yours

Just as there's no such thing as a "average" family, there's no one right way to set up a family command center. One family may find a single three-ring binder can hold all the information they need to make it to work and school on time each day. For others, the family command center will fill an entire wall with whiteboards, personal inboxes and cubbies.

To determine what your family needs in an information center, consider what information needs to be collected and shared in the household. Your command center components might include items like:

  • family calendar
  • school calendar
  • household chore checklists
  • frequently called phone numbers
  • babysitter/emergency information
  • school lunch menus
  • shopping list
  • coupon files
  • personal inboxes for each family member
  • whiteboard for notes and reminders
  • incoming/outgoing mail
  • bills to pay
  • receipts file
  • storage for pens, pencils, paper, markers and erasers

Looking for ideas? The Printable Library has a great selection of calendars, checklists and information forms for use in a family command center.

Location, location, location

Once you have an idea of what information you'll track and how much space your command center will require, it's time to give it a home.

Where to set up your family command center? Again, it's a choice as individual as your household.

One family will add a command center to the family's launch pad, while others claim the prime real estate of the refrigerator door. Some households prefer a desk-based solution, with file drawers at the ready, while others rely on wall-based messaging using whiteboards and sticky notes.

Wherever you choose, keep in mind that the center won't work if no one can see it! Hidden away behind a door spells instant failure, so choose a spot that's out in plain view and on the family's fast-track each day.

A place for everything ... and everyone

No matter how pretty--or organized!--the family command center may be, it won't work unless you use it. Encourage the household to use the command center by giving each family member a "buy-in": a place of their own for notes and messages.

Mount magnetic paper holders to the refrigerator, labeled with children's names, or create color-coded sections on a whiteboard to give everyone ownership of the information contained there.

Hint: tuck love notes, a small treat, or a "get out of chores free" card into children's message areas to make using the command center more fun!

Build regular checks into your routine

To bring the concept to full usefulness, build "command center checks" into your morning and evening routine.

Knowing that there's a thumbs-down entry on tomorrow's school lunch menu gives you plenty of time to pack a substitute sack lunch the night before. No more morning panic!

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Mellow Mornings Solution: Family Launch Pad

Back-to-School Countdown Day 8

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 13, 2014

It's not just our family that exits the door each morning during the school, it's our stuff! Can you find what you need to get the children off to school on time each day?

Briefcases and backpacks, library books and lunch sacks travel with us in and out of the house each day. Arriving home, these possessions scatter to the winds; in the morning, precious time is wasted rounding them up for another day's use.

If you're playing too many games of "Where's the permission slip?", it's time to consider taming the chaos with a family launch pad.

A simple concept, a family launch pad is a dedicated space for daily traveling companions. A bookcase or storage cubby, the launch pad is the place to deposit backpacks, sports equipment, and projects needed for each day of school or work.

By setting aside storage space near the door for each family member, a launch pad creates a home for these migrant possessions.

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, set up a dedicated launch pad for each family member to start the school year off right. Get 'em out the door on time!

Tame Morning Madness With A Family Launch Pad"

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School-Day Routines for an Organized Home

Back-to-School Countdown Day 7

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 12, 2014

Kindergarten teachers know a powerful organizing principle: reliable routines are the secret to a successful school day.

Well-crafted classroom routines give pupils a sense of security--and ensure that the day moves smoothly through each planned activity.

Put that organizing secret to work in your organized home!

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, it's time to craft morning, after-school and evening routines for the school year.

Try these ideas to create an efficient routine to move the family easily through each school day.

Start with bedtime, and work backward

Every parent knows the importance of sufficient sleep. Cut the shut-eye short, and the result will be cranky children and chaotic mornings.

Now, before school begins, introduce a reasonable school-year bedtime, and transition children onto the new schedule in good time for the first day of school.

Plan ahead for mornings

One minute of preparation at day's end is worth 15 minutes of morning frustration! Thinking ahead to an organized morning, consider adding these items to your children's before-bed routine:

  • Five minute pick-up of family room or living room to return children's belongings to their places
  • Homework / backpack check for items needed the next day
  • Set the table for breakfast
  • Make and refrigerate lunches
  • Lay out clothing for the next day
Get out the door on time

Getting a late start on a school morning can cast a cloud over the rest of the day for everyone. Time to plan a morning routine that will get everyone out the door on time (and smiling!)

As a parent, try to get up a half-hour earlier than the family. Being showered, dressed, and possessed of a few minutes of quiet time before beginning the morning routine gives a big boost of patience and energy.

For the children, consider these items to set a morning routine:

  • Plan a wake-up call with 5 to 15 minutes of leeway. Letting little ones wake up gradually cuts the cranky.
  • Set a breakfast time ... and enforce a dress code. Dressing before breakfast gives more time for the meal and cuts dawdling.
  • Set up a family launch pad to organize "out the door" items, so the family's not delayed by a lost permission slip or missing sports uniform.
  • Account for the unexpected when leaving for school. An extra five minutes can be a sanity saver should traffic or car issues delay the family.
Craft an after-school routine

Finally, consider how the family will return from school. A short routine performed on entering the house can see backpacks returned to the launch pad, snacks and homework review ... before children scatter to their own devices after a long day.

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Organize Kids' Rooms for Back-to-School

Back-to-School Countdown Day 6

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 11, 2014

The start of school puts new demands on children's bedrooms. Can the kids find clothing during the morning rush? Where will they do their homework?

To kick off a new school year from an organized home, it's time to declutter, deep-clean and organize children's rooms.

Working with your child, tackle kids' rooms now for school-day success. Remove clutter, organize toys and clothing, and bring a fresh new feeling to your children's private space.

Ready to start? Get inspired to create an organized, supportive space for your little learner:

8 Great Tips to Organize Kids' Rooms

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Start Small: Sneak Up On Freezer Cooking

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 10, 2014

You've heard about bulk freezer cooking--an easy method of stockpiling prepared meals in the household freezer.

Commercial meal assembly franchises like Dream Dinners®, or Let’s Dish® have popularized the concept (at a cost), but smart home cooks know that feeding the freezer is an efficient way to feed the family. too.

Whether you know it as once-a-month cooking, freezer assets, OAMC or freezer cooking, the idea sounds intriguing. In a single day, freezer cooking lets you cook and freeze dinner entrees for a month--or more.

But the work! Loaded down with toddlers or balancing a full-time job, you can't imagine devoting two full days a month to shopping, preparing and cooking all those meals.

Take heart! Freezer cooking is not just for the energetic; it's possible to stock your freezer without the marathon sessions. Try these strategies to build your frozen assets bit by bit:

Soup-er Strategies

Soups and stews are simple-but-good dishes for freezer storage--and their forgiving nature makes them a logical first step for beginning freezer cooks.

Try these ideas to build your stock of soup possibilities:

  • Store the components, not the soup. Too often, frozen soups don't satisfy. Overcooked vegetables, gritty stock and stringy meat are a table turn-off. Instead of freezing completed soups, freeze components: a container of chicken broth, freezer bag of just-cooked chicken in single meal portions. To assemble, sauté onions, celery and carrots in a skillet, and add the freezer broth. Stir in leftover cooked rice. Add the meat, heat--and serve a soup that stands the test of time.
  • Just say "No!" to potatoes. Whether in soup, stew or casserole, frozen potatoes don't cut the mustard. Package freezer stew before adding potato. When you reheat, stir in cold, cubed, peeled baked potato from last night's dinner. Freezer friendly potato substitutes include barley and slightly undercooked pasta.
  • Store now, thicken later. Yes, you can freeze thickened stews, but do you want to? Cornstarch and flour-based gravies can separate after freezing, and never seem to have quite the right texture. Better, freeze the meal first and add thickening after thawing.
Magic Multiples

The concept is simple. When you do cook, cook multiple portions and freeze extra servings.

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Problem is, this method is a bit haphazard. Who hasn't known the virtuous feeling of cooking up a big pot of baked beans and tucking a container or two deep in the bowels of Moby Dick, the great white whale?

Where, sad to say, it remains. Months later, a freezer clean-out yields a variegated ice mountain of anonymous dribs and drabs.

Without labels, planning or portion control, the effort goes to waste.

Fine-tune your bulk cooking skills to avoid the hazards of mystery meat:

  • Plan multiple meals. Ground beef and Italian sausage on sale this week? By all means, buy extra for freezer meals--but make it a plan. Two pounds of beef and a pound of sausage will make four meals for your family? Great! That's what you buy, not a smidgen more. Too often, a weak "I'll freeze the extras" motivation leads to overbuying and waste; relying on a plan saves time and money.
  • Package the freezer meals first. Back to our hungry family, faced with a huge kettle of spaghetti sauce. Before you know it, your meat-loving teen has gutted the pot and put a serious dent in those planned-over meals. Instead, fill freezer containers before you serve the evening's meal. You'll have a tighter handle on portion control--and there will be no more scant cups of meatless sauce marooned inside the whale.
  • Freeze casseroles before cooking. Twice-cooked casseroles are nobody's friend. After dinner, who wants to scoop the leavings into freezer bags? Efficient multiple cooks build their lasagna in three single-meal containers and freeze two while the evening's dinner is in the oven.
  • Package properly. Ill-assorted margarine tubs and gaping plastic containers are for amateurs--and they won't protect your frozen assets. Invest in three or four same-sized oven-safe casserole dishes. Is it beef stew tonight? Spritz the dishes with pan spray, and line with a sheet of foil long enough to wrap completely around the food. Spray the foil, too, then ladle in the stew. Gently tuck the foil up over the food. Freeze overnight, then release the foil from the pan. Wrap, label and freeze in freezer bags. To use, pop a foil-wrapped entree into the casserole dish, thaw and re-heat. Simple!
  • Label, label, label! Our efficient once-a-month cook has assembled her labeling supplies before she begins. Casual freezer cooks often fudge the labels. Tuck a slip of paper with the multiple's name and cooking directions between the foil-wrapped entree and the freezer bag. Better, use a permanent marker pen to label freezer bags. A page of computer address labels tucked in the phone directory provides quick labeling help.
  • Track inventory. "Out of sight, out of mind" defeats many would-be freezer cooks--and nothing's better for inventory control than a whiteboard. Add three dinners' worth of macaroni and cheese to your freezer hoard? Write 'em in. Visiting family has you drawing heavily on your inventory? Erase each meal as you use it. A small magnet-mounted whiteboard can be placed on the freezer door to track freezer contents.
Super Six Freezer Plan

You're chafing at the bit, dreaming of making a big dent in nightly cooking chores. Still, you've got neither the time nor the money to invest in a whole month's worth of freezer meals at one time. What do you do?

Try the Super Six Freezer Plan. Once a week, you'll prepare the night's dinner plus six meals for the freezer.

Even eating one prepared meal a week, after six weeks you'll have a fully stocked once-a-month freezer--and missing a week here and there? No problem.

To stockpile meals under the Super Six Freezer Plan:

  • Make a plan. Using the supermarket sale flyers, identify one bargain protein. Are bone-in chicken breasts on sale for 99 cents? Good candidate! How about low-priced chuck roast? There's another. Choose your Super Six candidate according to your family's tastes.
  • Still sitting down with the sale flyers, identify two favorite recipes that can be made from your sale special. Chicken breasts yield Chicken Fajitas and Chicken-Biscuit Casserole. Chuck roast becomes Beef Bourgignon and Pot Roast. Check to make sure that you have other ingredients needed--if not, add them to the grocery list.
  • Schedule a Super Six cooking session. For two recipes, allow an extra hour in the kitchen that evening; three recipes may require more time.
  • Cook assembly-line fashion. For our chicken plan, we'll make 3 Mexican Chicken casseroles and four Fajita meals, one to be served that night.
  • Toss one-third of the bone-in breasts into a large steamer pot. As the meat cooks, bone the remaining breasts. Reserve the skin, bones and scraps.
  • Assemble Fajita marinade, and divide the boned breasts among 3 freezer bags and a glass bowl. Pour one-fourth of the marinade into each bag, and one-fourth into the bowl for the night's meal. Seal, label and freeze the Fajitas.
  • Cool the now-cooked chicken breasts and remove the meat. Mix the casserole sauce ingredients, and grate cheese and chop onions for the casseroles (reserve extra cheese and onions for the night's dinner). Using three foil-lined pans, assemble the casseroles, label, and freeze. Grill the evening's fajitas.
  • Dump the skin, bone and scraps right into the bottom of the steamer pot, add more water, and bring to a gentle simmer for chicken stock. Simmer very slowly for several hours or overnight, strain, and freeze. Your Super Six plan has given you a bonus--free homemade chicken stock!

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Using this concept for a month, you'll build frozen assets quickly--and easily. Adding freezer meals gradually is friendlier to the budget, too!

Total time: 90 minutes. Total freezer investment: six meals. Multiply by six weeks, and you've filled the freezer!

Trade Money for Time

Oh, no! I've scared you! Super Six sounds like too much work, and who's got time to package freezer meals each night at dinner?

Okay, fine. There's a work-free way to have the advantage of meals in the freezer: buy them.

You're going to trade money for time--but it's still faster and cheaper than five nights a week of take-out and/or fast food.

Try these sources for pre-prepared freezer meal candidates.

  • Scour warehouse stores and supermarket freezer sections for freezer meal candidates. Family-size lasagna is made to order, even if you do have to "plan over" the second half of the package for later in the week.
  • Think in terms of building blocks, not complete meals. Pre-cooked frozen meatballs can be tossed into spaghetti sauce from a jar. Cooked shrimp takes simple fried rice from a side dish to a light entree.
  • Try a Ewer family favorite: place meatballs in a medium saucepan, and add water just to cover. Stir in two or three teaspoons of beef soup base, bring to a boil, and simmer gently. Cook rice in a rice steamer as the meatballs simmer. Toss a salad. When the rice is ready, stir a tablespoon of cornstarch into a small amount of water, and add to the meatballs to thicken the sauce. Simple!
  • Other freezer-friendly meal components: bags of pre-cooked frozen shrimp; small bacon-wrapped filets of beef; pre-formed hamburger patties; flash-frozen chicken breasts.

Freezer convenience, home-cooked taste, and more free time? It's a winner! Give freezer cooking a try . . . one way or the other!

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Save Money on Back-to-School Clothes: 10 Savings Tips

Back-to-School Countdown Day 5

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 8, 2014

Gearing up for a new school year? Don't get sticker shock when shopping for school clothes!

The cost of clothing the children for a new school year can be staggering. Even clothing in good repair may no longer fit a growing youngster after the summer holiday. If you've got a budding fashionista on your hands, your child's list of must-have items can swell out of all reality.

How to send them back to school in style ... and on budget? Try these ten ideas for saving money on school clothes.

Make a Wardrobe Check

What do the children need for school? Get in the know before you go!

Take an hour and check children's closets before heading to the mall. Consider whether items fit, what condition they're in, and whether they coordinate well with the rest of the wardrobe.

Use our School Clothing Checklist to identify what each child needs to be ready for the first day of school.

As you go, remove outgrown and worn out clothing from drawers and closets. You'll make room for new purchases--and make school-day mornings easier--when you cut the clutter.

Stick To Your List

Impulse purchases can be real budget-killers. Sticking to your list while shopping makes sure your budget goes toward items that are truly needed.

Better, a written list helps focus family decision-making when shopping for school clothes. No matter how your little one pleads, if it's not on the clothing checklist, it's not in the shopping cart.

Build On the Basics

Inexpensive basics like T-shirts are a great way to build wardrobe variety at a low cost--and because these items tend to be trendy, their relatively short life-span is a bonus.

Buy a reasonable selection now, then replenish stocks of T-shirts, socks and tights throughout the year, to keep kids' wardrobes fresh.

Buy Good, Once

By contrast, big-ticket items such as winter coats can be expensive to replace mid-winter if they don't hold up. Paying a bit more for quality pays off over the course of the year.

Better still, purchase coats and outerwear from retailers with generous return policies, such as LL Bean. If a zipper breaks or a seam rips, you'll be able to replace the garment.

Shop On Sales Tax Holidays

Does your state offer sales tax holidays? If so, you'll save 7 to 10% on the cost of school clothes by taking advantage of the tax breaks.

Check this listing of Sales Tax Holidays, and plan to shop ... and save!

Hold Out for Clearance Sales

Smart back-to-school shoppers know that the hottest clothing on today's back-to-school displays will hit the clearance racks shortly after Labor Day.

Buying one or two new outfits now, then completing the list during September's clearance sales saves money--and with fewer shoppers in the store, shopping "late" saves stress, too.

Stretch the Shopping Season

The school year lasts for nine long months ... and children grow, and grow, and grow. Buy it all now, and you're apt to find tight waistbands and too-short trousers in the closet come Spring.

To shop smart, stagger school clothing purchases throughout the year. Hitting seasonal clearance sales in mid-September, after the Christmas holidays, and in February's winter clearance sales cuts the cost of keeping children in shoes and clothes.

Recycle and Repurpose

"New" isn't the only way to go, when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Consignment stores, thrift stores and yard sales are great places to find top-quality children's clothing at bargain prices.

If you're handy with needle and thread, look at kids' wardrobes with an eye to repurposing. Too-short pants become wearable shorts with a new hem!

Build Your Budget With Resales

Don't miss the chance to build your back-to-school budget with creative reselling.

Children's clothing in good repair fetches premium prices at yard sales, so organize a back-to-school garage sale to clear last year's clothes ... and score some cash for current needs.

Consignment shops offer another avenue to resell children's clothing for cash or store credit. They're a great place to cash in on high-quality or fashionable garments you no longer need.

Organize a Clothing Swap

Finally, cut out the middleman when reselling children's clothing by organizing a clothing swap with other families. Circulating outgrown clothing with friends builds variety in the kids' wardrobes ... and the price is right!

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Back-to-School Solution: Prepare For School Paperwork

Back-to-School Countdown Day 4

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 7, 2014

Back-to-school on the horizon? Here comes the paperwork!

Today in the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown, we're preparing for the paper flood ahead.

Each school day, children's backpacks grow paperwork like leaves on trees. Permission slips and lunch menus. Sports rosters and progress reports.

Keep them organized by setting up a simple filing system to track and hold school paperwork.

Whether you add folders to a household Action File, or designate a stand-alone file box for school-day use, make a plan for paperwork today.

Your filing system can be as simple as one file folder per child, or can break down paperwork into multiple categories like "Homework Assignments", "Soccer", or "Lunch Menus".

Either way, giving paperwork an organized home means you'll never have to play "hunt the permission slip" on busy mornings!

To learn more about handling household paperwork, try this article:

Paper Chase: The ABCs of Household Paper Management

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Cash In: Start Now to Save Money for Christmas

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 6, 2014

Think Christmas ... when it's summertime? Sure--if you want to be prepared for a stress-free holiday season.

Starting holiday planning now makes sense ... and cents! Saving ahead for holiday expenses spreads the financial demands of the Christmas season over several months--and being prepared with a cash budget means you'll be less tempted to put holiday spending on credit cards.

Sister site Organized Christmas has some clever ways to start now to save money for a debt-free Christmas celebration:

Clever checkbook management can lead to a Christmas stash. When paying bills each month, "round down" the bank balance to the next even amount--say, from $967 to $900--by writing a dummy check for $67 and deducting it from the register. Don't cash it, but hold it for Christmas. Over a few months, those "round it down" amounts will add up to holiday funds.

Cash In! Do-It-Now Ways To Save Money For Christmas

Get Organized for Back-to-School: Information and Contacts

Back-to-School Countdown Day 3

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 6, 2014

The start of school brings a brisk new tempo to the household, sweeping away the sweet leisure of summer--and the first day of school can bring an unwelcome splash of busy reality.

Will you be ready? Get organized now to sail into school with ease!

On Day 3 of the Back-to-School Countdown, we focus on information, contacts and appointments. It's time to gather paperwork, start a school-year contacts list, and schedule any needed appointments in good time for the first day of school.

Gather School Paperwork

Today, take a moment to collect all school-related paperwork and information--whether online or in printed form. Examples include:

  • Registration forms and orientation materials
  • Medical forms
  • School supply lists
  • School calendars
  • School lunch menus
  • Before- and after-school care information
  • Bus schedules

Getting the paperwork to a single location will help you complete any back-to-school forms more easily. No more games of "hunt the sports release!"

Create a Contacts List

During the next few weeks, you and your child will meet new teachers, school nurses, bus drivers and counselors. Make life easy for you--and for any caregivers--by creating a central list of school contacts.

Whether you create a special "school" listing in a smartphone or computer contacts manager, or rely on our paper School Information printable, start a contacts list today.

As information arrives, you'll be ready to note phone numbers and e-mail contact information for use during the coming year.

Make Needed Appointments

Are there still appointments to be made before school starts? If you haven't already done so, call and make appointments for:

  • Haircuts
  • Sports physicals
  • Immunizations
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Build a Budget for Back-to-School

Back-to-School Countdown Day 2

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 5, 2014

Getting ready for back-to-school with the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown? Hang on to your wallet!

No doubt about it, outfitting the family for a new school year can be a pricey enterprise. Shoes, clothes and school supplies are only the beginning of the financial outlay.

Today's parents must add fees imposed by cash-strapped school districts, shared hygiene supplies and deposits for band instruments.

Sports and extracurricular activities impose their own drain on family funds ... and behind it all, the children have a long list of must-have items for the first day of school.

How to hold the line on seasonal spending? Build a back-to-school budget to stay on top of school expenses ... and save.

Better, setting a budget for school spending offers important lessons for the young learners in your life. Here's how to create a back-to-school budget and use it to make good decisions as you prepare for the first day of school.

Calculate the bottom line

A budget is a mighty tool for redirecting spending, but it doesn't appear out of thin air! To create a back-to-school budget, you'll want to total up every school-related expense you'll need to meet in the coming weeks. Once you can see the bottom line, you'll have the information you need to set priorities and get creative about spending decisions.

Using pencil and paper (or our printable Back-To-School Budget planner), list every expense you can anticipate.

Allocate an amount for clothing and shoes. Review supply lists and school communications, check in with sports teams, and look back a last year's spending. List it all, every penny you think you need to spend for school.

Ready? Time to face up to the bottom line. Add all items on your list to get the family's grand total for back-to-school spending.

Then take a deep breath, because now you're empowered to bring that number back down to earth!

Shop at home, first

Now that you've got your budget roughed out, it's time to cut costs. The first and easiest way to stretch your budget is to shop at home, first.

Armed with supply lists and your shopping list, scour your home for usable items. Will last year's lunchbox make it through another year? Have children try on coats, gym clothes and athletic shoes before you shop. Check stocks of school supplies.

Shopping at home first gives the best of all price breaks: it's free! Remove any home-bought items from your lists, and reduce your budget accordingly.

Hold a family meeting //-->

Now that you know the bottom line, and you've trimmed it by locating any usable items you already have, it's time to bring the family on-board.

Sharing the back-to-school budget with your children is a powerful method of bringing them back to shopping reality.

First, the total number seems very, very large--and makes a big impression on young minds. Write the total budget amount on a whiteboard or piece of paper, so that everyone is aware of it.

Then, make it real. For multi-child families, divide that number by the number of children. Noting a per-child limit on spending helps focus budget discussions and gives children a buy-in to the process.

Focus on elastic spending items

That per-child spending limit may loom large! Once it's on the table, you need to cut it further, to reflect spending items that are "elastic": where choices can be made.

Non-elastic items, like instrument rentals or book deposits, must be paid in full. Since there's no "wiggle room" with these items, they must come off the top, so the family can focus on those areas where good decisions can lower school spending.

For example, if each child participates in a sport that requires a $25 fee, deduct $25 from the per-child amount you share with the family.

What's left is the sum available for elastic items: clothing, shoes, lunch boxes. These are the areas where the family can decide how much--or how little!--to spend, and where creative solutions can save real money.

Separate wants from needs

Looking at shopping lists with an eye to decision-making, it's important to separate wants from needs. A clothes-horse daughter may want 14 new outfits for school, but her needs are much different! Help children determine which items on their lists are truly needed, and which are only wanted.

One way to motivate children to be frugal and creative with back-to-school spending? Help them satisfy the "needs" first, then allocate any remaining funds for "wants".

For example, a teen son looking for "street cred" will carry last year's backpack without a peep, so long as he can stride onto the playground in name-brand athletic shoes.

Get creative

Finally, explore ways the family can save on back-to-school spending.

Encourage children to check sale flyers and online sources to find the lowest prices on items they want--and shop multiple stores to take advantage of loss leaders and advertised specials.

Start an "equipment swap" with fellow parents to cut the costs of participating in sports.

Check consignment stores for children's clothing in good condition ... for less.

Does your state offer sales tax holidays? Check this link, then plan shopping trips to take advantage of them:

State Sales Tax Holidays

Stay on top of spending

Finally, your back-to-school budget will provide a reality check, should your spending exceed budgeted amounts.

As you shop, keep a running total of the amount spent per category. When that figure starts to approach budget limits, it's a signal to scale back spending and reevaluate decisions.

Accept the guidance your budget will provide. It's better to be in-the-know as you go, than to find an unhappy surprise in September's credit card statement!

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Gear Up! Ultimate Back-to-School Checklist

Back-to-School Countdown Day 1

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 4, 2014

Welcome to Day 1 of the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown!

In spite of August's long and lazy summer days, a new school year is on the horizon. To be ready for the first day of school, there are lists to make and appointments to keep, paperwork to be processed and shopping to be done.

Track them all with this ultimate back-to-school checklist! Free for the printing, it'll help you tick off back-to-school tasks and get organized for a new school year.

Then follow along with the Back-to-School Countdown for daily messages, free printables and great ideas to prepare home and household for the first day of school.

Try these tips to prepare for a new school year:

Do It Now Tips to Get Ready For Back-to-School

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Do It Now! Tips To Get Ready For Back-To-School

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 3, 2014

Move over, summer--a new school year is coming!

With the start of school, families face new organization challenges.

School bells ring--and so do early-morning alarm clocks.

Paper piles swell as hand-outs and homework stream into the house.

Shorter autumn days bring a hectic round of sports, activities and events, and calendars fill with cryptic notes. Can the holidays be far behind?

Get organized now for the best school year ever! Use these ideas to prepare your home and family for the busy days ahead.

Ease the family into a school year schedule.

The first day of school is no time for a drastic adjustment of household sleep schedules. Instead, ease children back into a school year routine gradually. During the last two weeks of summer, re-introduce a school year bedtime. Begin waking late sleepers earlier and earlier, closer to the hour they'll need to rise when school begins.

Don't neglect mealtimes! Younger children, in particular, need to adapt to new meal routines before the school day demands it of them. Plan meals and snacks to accustom little ones to rituals of the school day before the school year begins.

Create Calendar Central

Each school year floats on a sea of schedules. School functions. Lunch menus. Scout meetings and music lessons. What do you do when you're drowning in paper?

Nothing calms school year chaos like Calendar Central: a centralized site for all family calendars and schedules. You'll need a family event calendar to track after-school activities, school programs and volunteer work. Add specialized calendars and schedules, and you have it: a one-stop shop for family time management.

Form is less important than function. A paper calendar with large squares lets you enter information easily. Pre-printed white board calendars are easy to revise when necessary. Color-coding entries by family member helps keep busy lives straight.

Paper planner fans dedicate a planner section to serve as Calendar Central, while tech-savvy cybergrrrlz store the info in a smart phone or tablet and sync with multiple computers. Choose a calendar format that works for your family.

Post the family event calendar in a public place near the telephone. Use magnets to attach the calendar to the refrigerator, or tack it to a bulletin board.

Add other calendars to Calendar Central: school lunch menus, class assignment sheets, sports practice schedules. When the room mother calls for field trip volunteers, you'll know at a glance whether you're free to join the group on the bus that day.

Plan before you shop

August is the second-biggest sales month for clothing retailers. Back to school clothing sales begin as early as July! Are you prepared to run the school clothes gauntlet?

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An informed shopper is a savvy shopper, so prepare before you shop.

Take an afternoon and assess each child's clothing needs.

Empty drawers and closets of outgrown or worn-out clothing, and either store or donate the discards.

Working with your child, clean and organize clothing storage before new garments are added--and cut down on school morning calls of "Mom! I don't have any clean . . . . "

Develop a wardrobe needs list for each child. Check for possible hand-me-downs from older siblings as you make your list. If you discuss the needs list and the family budget with your children before you shop, you'll avoid in-the-store tantrums.

Similarly, ask the school for classroom supply lists before shopping for school supplies. Forewarned is forearmed ... and helps protect the family budget.

Do shop early! With back-to-school sales beginning in mid-July, tardy shoppers have a tough time locating needed supplies among September's Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations.

Gather your papers

School entry may require documentation from immunization records to report cards from the previous school year. Athletes need proof of medical examination. A little preparation can prevent frantic last-minute searches for a birth certificate or registration confirmation.

Call your child's school or check the school district Web site beforehand to find out what paperwork will be required--then find it! You won't be sorry come registration day.

Take aim on morning madness

How are school mornings in your home? Crazed and chaotic, or calm and cheerful? Plan ahead to send your schoolchildren--and yourself!--out the door in a happy frame of mind.

Each evening, think ahead to the following morning; where can you lighten the load? Set the breakfast table as you clear the dinner dishes, and make sure breakfast foods are easy to reach. Lay out children's clothing the night before. Scan backpacks or launch pad spaces for missing homework, projects or library books. Make sure musical instruments or sports bags are packed and ready to go.

Do "bathroom wars" break out daily among the small fry? Multi-child households may need a bathroom schedule so that everyone gets equal time before the mirror.

What do you do about books and papers, lunch money and permission slips? Practice the Launch Pad concept! By creating a dedicated space for every family member, a Launch Pad gets the family out the door in record time--and organized.

Make a practice run

How will children get to school? The first day of school is no time to find out it takes ten minutes--not five--to walk to the nearest bus stop!

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Before school begins, make a practice run to get children to the school on time.

If they'll walk, help them learn the route they'll take and note the needed time.

Car-pooling? Make sure the dry run accounts for early-morning traffic!

Bus riders will need to be familiar with the location of the bus stop; print and post the bus schedule to prevent a missed bus.

Spiff up household systems

A new school year quickens the tempo of family life. Sports activities, music lessons, church programs and volunteer commitments tap parental time and put new mileage on the mini-van. Get organized! Spiff up your household systems to meet autumn's faster pace:

Clean house ... fast! Take a stab at speed cleaning and whip through household chores in record time.

Cut time in the kitchen: create a menu plan and never again wonder "What's for dinner?"

Streamline dinner preparations. Try a session of freezer cooking to stock the freezer with prepared entrees for stress-free dinner on sports night.

Conquer the paper pile-up. Set up a basic home filing system to track school paperwork, volunteer activities and household planning

Happy New School Year! Time to swing into a new school year--from an organized home.

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Print An Activity Binder for Stress-Free Family Vacations

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 31, 2014

Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we love 3-ring binders. That's why we adore this travel tip for families with children: use free printables to create a kid's activity binder before traveling.

Use these links to print free coloring pages, word games, puzzles and activity sheets.

Assemble a binder for each child, and add a zipper bag containing crayons, markers, pencils and game tokens to keep the kids amused for hours of peaceful drive time.

Find free printables for kids at these Web sites:

Spoonful Printables

PBSKids.org Games, Stories and Coloring Pages

TheKidzPage.com Coloring Pages

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Welcome to the Back-to-School Countdown

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 31, 2014

A new school year is on the horizon! Time to prepare for back to school, with the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown.

Beginning on Monday August 4, we'll take two weeks to count down to the new school year. We'll work together to get organized, gear up and get ready for back-to-school.

Following an ultimate back-to-school checklist, the Back-to-School Countdown includes weekday reminders, free printables and inspiring articles to help you prepare for the first day of school.

Bookmark this page to join the fun ... and send 'em back to school from an organized home!

2014 Back-to-School Message Index
Back-to-School Printables Articles: 

Back-to-School Shopping Tips: Start Early and Save

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 23, 2014

Ah, summer! Baseball and sunshine, lemonade stands ... and back to school?

Yep. Summer or not, it's time to think about ways to save money shopping for back-to-school clothing and school supplies.

Retailers are poised to begin back-to-school promotions the instant July 4th's fireworks cease to glow.

Savvy shoppers begin planning now to get the most for their back-to-school dollar.

Hang onto your wallets! With the rise of "back to school" as a two-month marketing exercise for retailers, coupled with cash-strapped school districts placing more of the supply burden onto students' families, it can be a tough job to get the kids outfitted without breaking the bank.

Try these school shopping tips to save money, time and your sanity when shopping for back to school.

Get "in the know" before you go

Before checking so much as a single back-to-school sales flyer, you need to know two things: what you need, and what you already have on hand.

What's on the list? No need to scrabble through cluttered drawers for last year's handouts! Local discount and office supply stores now feature checklist kiosks for nearby schools; school web sites are another good source for supply lists. Download or grab each kid's checklists, then scour the house for items already on-hand.

Shop at home first--and set up Supply Central

Any item already on-hand is a bonus freebie, so check the house for rulers and protractors, pencils and binder paper.

Set aside a supply stash. One way to conquer the "where is it?" chaos: designate a box, shelf or covered records box as School Supply Central.This tip will serve you well throughout the year the year. Find that stash of 9-cent boxes of crayons or a few packs of binder paper from last summer's shopping spree? Tuck them into the box; the short stuff will know where to find new crayons when they need them in November.

Stick to your list--and your budget

School supply aisles look like toy departments these days, and kids have big gimme eyes for school-day flash and bling. Shop from your list to keep back-to-school spending within budget.

Better, use a list as an exercise in financial education. Children, as natural consumers, are easy prey to "buy-me, buy-me" pressures, so smart parents set limits during this time of year.

Once you have an idea of your child's true needs, establish a budget amount, and create a learning experience. Yes, little Jenna WILL want the pricey licensed-character backpack and the lunchbox and the binder, no matter the cost. A bit of horsetrading along the lines of, "Well, the budget will let you buy the backpack only if we choose less expensive binders" can make the limits clear--and teach financial skills at the same time.

Shop early!

Back-to-school loss leaders (products offered at prices below their actual cost to entice you into the store) begin to pop up in discount stores and office supply stores mid-July. If you can pick up loss leaders for items you know you'll need--like lined notebook paper, pencils, crayons and report folders--you'll spare the budget for big-ticket buys.

Shop around!

While shopping, keep your eyes open. These days, just about every retailer wants a piece of the back-to-school action. School supplies pop up in the oddest places, like crafts stores, dollar stores and supermarkets. Shop off the beaten path for good prices!

Shop late! //-->

While nobody wants to be caught dead dragging multiple children into the crowded school supply aisles the weekend before school opens, a short week later will see the same merchandise marked down to clearance prices--and no crowds.

Turn a deaf ear to children's pleas of "But I HAVE to have it all today!" and budget some cash for season-end discount buys.

That's the time to stock up on the basics that will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers.

Seek out the stocking stuffers

If back-to-school is here, the holidays won't be far behind. Clearance-priced school supplies make great Christmas stocking stuffers. A quick trip after school begins--and once the items are marked down--can fill Santa's stockings inexpensively.

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Household Notebook: Planner for an Organized Home

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 16, 2014

So you think businesspeople are the only folks who need a personal planner?

Think again: families need an organizer, too, to keep life moving smoothly on the home front!

A planner for the entire household allows anyone--child, visitor, babysitter--easy access to the information they need. It's a one-stop information center for busy families.

How will you use it? Whether it's a carpool schedule or a co-worker's phone number, the household notebook holds the information you need to check each day. Addresses. Phone numbers. Rosters for sports teams, prayer groups or civic organizations.

Ready for an evening out? Flip the Notebook open to the "Emergency Information" page, and the babysitter will always know where to find you.

Time for dinner? Menu planners, recipe organizers and shopping list make it easy to feed the family night after night.

Clean house fast with cleaning schedules, chore lists and seasonal checklists for home maintenance. Keeping tabs on children's activities, sports team phone numbers or emergency information is as easy as flipping a divider.

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Stay-at-home parents and homeschool families add calendar and scheduling features to the household notebook, while daily morning and evening checklists and family schedules make it easy to organize life in families with small children.

Empty-nesters corral take-out menus, service club rosters and medical information to make life flow smoothly.

Ready to create your own Household Notebook?

Click the links below for more information about making and using a Household Notebook ... to get organized at home.

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